The countries of the Nordics have become a kind of untapped oasis for tech startups of late. Since 2005, the Nordics — Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden — represent 7% of global billion-dollar tech exits even though they account for just 2% of global GDP. You might say startups in the Nordics are tulessa, Finnish for “on fire.”
Okay, I realize that this declaration coming from a proud Finn and co-founder of a Helsinki-based tech startup may sound a bit pretentious. But that’s not my intent.
Rather, I’d like to highlight some of the lessons I’ve learned while working both in the U.S. and in the Nordics to share some of the best lessons from my experience of Nordic business and distill it for an audience who may be less familiar with the culture than I am.
Here are some management philosophies borrowed from the way Nordics do business.
Challenge overly hierarchical structures
Many companies in the Nordics — particularly companies in Sweden — have a tendency to discuss business decisions in detail in a democratic setting. Some might say, they discuss everything with all employees present. While some U.S. executives might consider that a bit of overkill, it creates a culture of shared decision-making. Traditionally, Swedish managers are considered to be informal and non-hierarchical when compared to managers across other global business cultures.
Indeed, many Swedish companies maintain a flat, non-hierarchical organization when compared to the layers of management seen at other companies worldwide. For example, young leaders from countries like Russia, Ukraine and Poland who have come to Sweden to study management have left recognizing a distinct Swedish leadership style: One that seems filled with easier communication and lower internal competition.
Teams that communicate and work toward a common vision tend to be more efficient. There is less drama, more productivity and often less turnaround. That saying about business being a dog-eat-dog world, it’s just not very relevant within Nordic businesses that adhere to non-hierarchical tendencies. For a manager or business owner looking to build a strong team, it is worth considering if your current managerial structure is the best for your business environment. Perhaps injecting some of the Nordic’s vision for building company management and decision making would go a long way in strengthening your company.
Celebrate team wins and encourage “our” and “we” language
One of the major differences I noticed when I became a manager here in the United States after spending time leading teams in the Nordics was how “me-focused” interviews and resumes are in the U.S. That is by no means a critique of how people build resumes here — a strong resume and emphasis on the value you bring to a company is typically how you sell yourself in an interview with a U.S. company.
Interviews are different in the Nordics. In fact, sometimes as an interviewer, it is often very difficult to get an interviewee to talk about themselves. Instead, their focus is on what the team did and how well they all worked together to tackle a given project or campaign.
Some U.S. companies could learn a lot from those arguably passive interviewees in the Nordics. While it is good to know your value, it is most valuable for a company to have team members who focus on the collective value they provide clients and customers.
At our company and across many others in the Nordics, we really do emphasize the kind of “our” and “we” language that you might find in books on leadership or management, but that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle as employees compete to prove their worth in a company.
Encourage financial transparency
Sharing details about company finances for privately held companies is typically reserved for small, small businesses — i.e. family-run businesses — or progressive companies here in the U.S.
The term open-book management is fairly modern and popular term, coined in the mid 90s. It is the idea that company executives share relevant financial information with employees so they can make better decisions as workers. The theory is that they will perform better if they see themselves as partners and not simply hired help.
Open-book management is something our company and others based in the Nordics subscribe to. In general, a lot of information about companies in the Nordics is public knowledge; you can find out a lot more about a given company through information available online than in other parts of the world. We are big on open data and that carries over in our business culture.
In our experience, we have found that an open-book philosophy has indeed empowered our employees. We take it a step further and have brought on employees as partners, providing them literal stock in the future of our company. It has been another way to empower them.
Believe in your people at all levels
The philosophy of believing in your people ties together everything else I’ve discussed. Essentially, if you really believe in your people at all levels of the company — from the college intern to the CFO — you will entrust them with motivating financial data; you’ll encourage “we” and “our” language from a team working in synergy; and, you’ll essentially be challenging hierarchical structures every step of the way.
We have had some amazing people start working with us out of college and in a matter of months become leaders in our company, taking on director-like roles.
These philosophies are not exclusive to companies in the Nordics. In fact, I’ve seen these sort of management styles initiated at Silicon Valley startups and across the companies in the U.S.
Blending the U.S. focus on data and results with the focus in the Nordics on teamwork and forming a non-hierarchical company could lead to some rapid growth as a company and good team morale. And no matter where we’re from, we all want our business growth to be tulessa.Business & Finance Articles on Business 2 Community